Vevo Tackles TV Ratings, As Some Music-Video Viewing Beats Top Shows

Working with Nielsen, Vevo tabulates that audience reach for Taylor Swift,  Rihanna and Drake when they release hit videos is on par with primetime

A billion digital video views — what does that actually mean? Vevo spent more than a year coming up with a way to answer that question, one that may keep the most advertising dollars in the comfort of television than its own coffers.

Monday, the online music video behemoth showed off Nielsen-affiliated data comparing the weeklong reach of artist catalog when a hit video drops, showing audiences stand up to programs like “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Big Brother” in size.

Vevo has one of the biggest presences in online music and digital video, with about 17 billion views a month, but the company has struggled to cash in on that that prime position. Most of its viewing is through YouTube, which extracts a large cut of ad revenue for parent Google, and the company’s own  fixation of total views didn’t translate into terms advertisers can equate with the rest of their marketing budgets.

“Millions of millions and millions of views means you’re reaching a lot of people, and those videos stack up against television,” said Andrea Zapata, Vevo vice president of research, in an interview with TheWrap. “Digital [advertising] is looked at as a nice to have, I don’t want it to be seen that way anymore. We should now say we’re on an even playing field.”

Vevo hired a team of researchers, some from Nielsen, and worked with Nielsen itself to develop a way to pit the viewership of artists’ videos against TV commercial viewership by age and gender. Based on Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings, Vevo factored in its own views, Nielsen custom panel research to get demographics, and its own ad inventory data from FreeWheel, a prominent online video ad platform.

Among its findings:

  • In the first week that Taylor Swift‘s  “Bad Blood” was available on Vevo in May, that video and Swift’s wider catalog reached more 18 million Americans, more than the scripted series on NBC, ABC and Fox. Only one scripted series (“NCIS: Los Angeles” on CBS) had greater unique reach in that week, which ran May 18 through May 24.
  • Rihanna‘s “BBHMM” video, a sleeper hit, was released in early July when TV viewership is in its summer doldrums, and her videos reached more than 5.9 million Americans in its first week. More than 78% of those streaming Rihanna‘s music videos were in the 18-49 demographic that advertisers seek, making her videos twice as likely to reach that age group as TV’s most watched summer series, “Big Brother” on CBS.
  • Drake‘s “Hotline Bling” was viewed 11.6 million times on Vevo in one week after its October debut, one of the heaviest months for traditional TV viewing. Vevo found that meant nearly 6 million people in the US watched at least one video from Drake‘s catalogue — even if it only counted those who watched a commercial with it. (Vevo does not allow viewers to skip ads, but YouTube sometimes does). And compared to television that week, Drake‘s catalog would have finished No. 3 among 18- to 49-year-olds behind new episodes of “South Park” on Comedy Central and “The League” on FXX.

Among the considerations in these comparisons, the company widened its study beyond just one hit video to look at the full catalog of an artists during the week of a hit release, finding that viewers would watch the latest video and then go back to view multiple more from the same artist.

Vevo didn’t include viewing on connected TV boxes like Roku or Apple TV, because those are gaps in Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings.

And it also didn’t have any way to account for people who listened to videos without actually watching them, playing their videos in the background as a free way to listen to songs on demand. To that, Zapata noted that even Nielsen TV ratings aren’t going to be sure who is watching any minute of that traditional viewing.